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Prudence, Chapter 58

Mark winced inwardly, looking down at Kristen's shocked, betrayed eyes, then looked up to Kayla and Aaron and jerked his head toward the door. "Make sure we have warning if someone's about to come in?"

Kayla shot him a significant, almost warning look, then took Aaron's hand and led him out the door, and Mark looked back down at Kristen. "She needed to hear it," he said, quietly. "And she needed to know that it was what you really thought, not just something that you were saying."

She stared up at him, speechless, then turned her head aside and closed her eyes, as if hiding from the world.

He squeezed her hand, hoping she'd understand soon, and gave Angie an expectant look.

The woman bit her lip, cringing, then whispered, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I didn't know it would hurt you." Her voice rose, tinged with hysteria. "I didn't know! I..." She shook her head, trembling. "I was so stupid. Please..."

When Kristen didn't respond, Mark looked at her. "Angie, I'll be blunt. There's only one way for the two of you to stop hurting each other."

Angie nodded shakily. "I know."

"And there's only one person who can do it."

She nodded again. "And she has every reason in the world to hate me."

He shook his head. "I don't think you've been listening to me. She doesn't hate you." He looked down at Kristen, caressing her palm with his thumb. "Do you, love?" he asked gently.

"No," Kristen said, her voice hoarse, but she didn't open her eyes.

"She doesn't hate you," Mark said. "Ed doesn't hate you. I don't hate you. The only person here who hates you seems to be you. Why don't you forgive yourself?"

Angie gazed over at the girl with desperate longing. "Kristen," she whispered, the word full of pain, and Kristen turned her head reluctantly to look at her, her own eyes full of the same pain.

Angie trembled, a tear running down her cheek, and her skin was sickly pale. "Kristen," she said again, her voice choked, "what have I done? Can you ever forgive me? Do I even have a right to ask?"

"I already have," the girl said softly.

"How?! How can you possibly forgive me?"

Kristen just closed her eyes and turned her face into the pillow, shaking her head mutely. Mark squeezed her hand reassuringly, but she still trembled, unable or unwilling to speak.

He knelt beside the bed so that his face was level with hers, and brushed the backs of his fingers against her cheek. "Tell me, love, and I'll tell her, if you want." Still, she stayed silent.

"Kristen?" Angie asked, brokenly, and the girl cringed against the pillows, as if trying to sink out of sight.

"I can't, I can't," she whispered. "I'm too scared. It hurts."

"Then tell me, love," Mark said, softly. "I won't tell her unless you say I can."

She shook her head. "I just can't— not out loud." She shivered, looking up at him, her green eyes pleading for understanding. "I'd forgive you. I'd forgive Kayla."

"Do you love her, then?" he asked gently, and she started to tremble violently.

"I... I don't know how. I don't even know her, except that she hurt me. It's not like you, how you're so sweet, so wonderful, or Kayla who I've known all my life. I just don't know how it happened!" Her words were fervent, full of emotion, but still quiet enough that only Mark could hear them, and him just barely.

He nodded slowly. "Can I tell her?"

Kristen's teeth chattered with the force of her shaking as she buried her face in the pillow. Mark closed his eyes, briefly, to see tha the link between his wife and the woman in the other bed was pulsing erratically-- it had to be hurting both of them. He squeezed her hand again. "I think it would help her work things out if she knew," he said, trying not to push, but worried that if he didn't, it would only get worse.

"She could hurt me so much if she knew," Kristen whispered, looking up at him fearfully. "You can, if you really want to, but I'm so scared..."

He knew, and he hated it. The instinct to scoop her up and carry her away, protect her from this threat warred with the certain knowledge that this problem wouldn't go away on its own, would only get worse if it wasn't resolved. "Love... could she hurt you any worse than she already did?"

"I don't know! I didn't know I could hurt this much before I did!"

"I know," he said, his throat tight. "I guess... the risk is getting hurt worse. The possible benefit, though, is stopping hurting. Isn't it worth it?"

She shuddered violently. She pulled her hand away from his, then snatched the blanket up over her face.

Gently, he tugged it back down again. "It's your choice, love."

"No it's not. I gave it to you," she said, then pulled the blanket back up.

Mark nodded, sighing, then stood up and walked back over to Angie. He sat down in the chair by her bed and looked at her solemnly. "Did you hear what she said?" he asked.

"No," Angie said, hoarsely, looking at him with violet eyes totally devoid of hope.

"I asked her if I could tell you something. She said that she was afraid, because you could hurt her so much if you knew. That I could, if I really wanted to, but that she was so scared..."

She hung her head, shoulders hunched forward, and looked sick. "God, I don't want to hurt her anymore. Please."

"Then don't," he said, sharply. He looked at her, his face hard, and wondered if he were doing the right thing. "She's in love with you, Angie. What are you going to do about it?"

She shuddered again, then seemed to just collapse in place, any trace of defiance, of pride, gone. She closed her eyes to escape his relentless gaze. "Whatever she wants," she whispered. "I'll do whatever she wants me to."

"She wants you not to hurt her anymore," he said, ruthlessly determined that the would not hide from any of it any longer. "There's only one way to do that, you know."

She swallowed hard. "I know."

"So."

"So?" she asked.

"So what are you going to do?"

"I've already said."

"Can you stop hurting her?" he asked, bluntly.

She looked up at him, finally, tears trembling on her lashes and making wet tracks down her cheeks. "Yes," she whispered. "B-but only if... only if she wants me to. I'll do anything she wants, but I'd rather die than do anything she doesn't want. I can't stand to hurt her more, I can't take it. Please..."

Mark stared at her for a long moment. She seemed to mean it. Everything about her made him think she believed what she was saying, but he was painfully aware that he didn't know her well enough to be totally sure. "Can you?" he asked, finally. "If you let her close and then shove her away again... it will destroy her. You have to understand that. You can't change your mind later. Don't make any committments you can't keep."

"I know," she said, her voice tortured, dripping with guilt. "God, I know. And I can. I don't care about anything else anymore. She... she's right. A god who'd want me to hurt her is a bastard who doesn't deserve worship. But I don't see how she could ever want me to."

"Then ask her."

"I can't. When I talk to her, it hurts her. It makes her cry."

"Because you were rejecting her," he said. "If you aren't going to do that anymore, then... ask her."

Angie whimpered. "I'm scared."

"So's she."

"I don't know what to say."

"Ask her if she wants you to love her."

She swallowed hard and stared up at him. "How?"

Mark shook his head. "You have to do it. Your words, not mine."

"Here? Like this?" She waved her unhooked hand at the curtains, tubes, and monitors.

Mark nodded. "Here. Now. We'll know if anyone's coming."

Angie closed her eyes for a moment, then nodded shakily. "Turn your back. Pull the curtains for a minute. Please?"

He nodded and stood, pulling the curtain closed behind him as he stepped out. Kristen looked up at him, her face tight with worry and fear, and he stepped around the bed to sit beside her. "It'll be okay," he whispered, brushing a red-gold curl from her cheek. From behind the curtain he could hear rustling, then low swearing, and the sound of wheels on tile, before Angie pushed the curtain open, shoving the heart monitor on its pole in front of her.

"If I unhook this one, it'll sound a stupid alarm," she said, looking embarrased.

Mark nodded. "You know, you didn't have to get up. She could have heard you from there."

"I know. I wanted to. It just didn't seem right," Angie said, then looked down at Kristen, who was watching her warily. "Kristen... I... I..." She paused, helplessly. "Can I sit by you? Please?"

Kristen nodded hesitantly, and Angie took the chair beside the bed, sliding it as close as sthe could get without actually touching. Kristen glanced nervously up at Mark, reaching for his hand, and he took it and held it tightly.

Angie held her head in her hands. "Kristen... I don't know what to say. 'I'm sorry' isn't enough, but it's all I have. I was so stupid." The girl listened quietly, her face emotionless when Angie glanced up at her, and the woman shuddered. "Kristen... oh honey. I've been such an idiot, and it's hurt you so much. I don't know how I could ever make it up to you. But... I'd like to try. If... if you want me to. If you'd rather I just... just left, went far away, another country, I'll do that, too. I never want to hurt you again. I'll do whatever you want."

Kristen's emotionless fascade broke, her eyes going huge and filling with hurt, and her lips trembled. "You'd leave me?" she whispered.

The woman burst into tears, hiding her face in her hands. "If... if th-that's what you want, I will! Oh god! You never have to see me again if you don't want to, I promise."

"You want to leave me?"

"No! I want to stay with you. But... but you don't have to let me."

Kristen closed her eyes, her face strained. "If you stay... will you hate me for making you want me?" she asked, slowly.

Angie reached out hesitantly. Her hand hovered inches from Kristen's face, as she whispered, "I could never hate you."

"Then stay," Kristen said, softly, without opening her eyes, and Angie looked up at Mark helplessly, not knowing what to do.

"Kiss her," he mouthed, silently, but Angie seemed to be paralyzed with fear. He closed his eyes quickly, and he could see the bond clearly. It was perfectly still, no energy flowing very far in either direction. It seemed to be... quivering, in a way. It was still red and angry, but mixed with the red and black were hints of Kristen's gold and a deep, royal purple. He opened his eyes and nodded. "KISS her," he mouthed again, insistently.

Angie's hand shook as she laid it ever so lightly against Kristen's cheek, and at that first touch, she shuddered. Her thumb caressed the silken skin along Kristen's cheekbone for a moment, then she gently turned the girl's face toward her.

Never taking her eyes from Kristen's face, she bent closer, shaking. Lips just a fraction of an inch away from the girl's, she stopped. "Kristen?" she whispered.

Kristen opened her eyes, meeting Angie's pleading violet gaze. "Yes." She parted her lips and lifted her head that last fraction of an inch.



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